Manchester divided: Will Rooney's demand for a move split a city?

As Ferguson admits his prize asset wants out, the club's fans fear a great sporting betrayal

The sky was a pale wintry blue over Old Trafford yesterday, which seemed apt. For the news had come out of the blue to most Manchester United fans that Wayne Rooney, Footballer of the Year last season, had announced that he wants to leave the club.

The place was in shock, but few doubted it would happen. Street traders outside the ground had already discounted scarves proclaiming "Wayne Rooney – The White Pele" to just half price. Inside the United Megastore two customers were returning shirts bearing the player's name. "I'll have a Chicharito one instead," one man said glumly.

So unexpected was the news that most United staff only heard it yesterday morning. "It has been a complete shock to lots of people inside the club," one insider said.

"The overwhelming reaction is sheer disappointment," said one of the street traders, John Speed, 40, a lifelong United fan clad in the green-and-gold scarf of the fans' protest movement that wants to force the club's owners, the Glazer family, to leave. The Glazers have burdened what was once the world's richest football club with debts of £700m.

One of the whirligig of theories spinning around the place was that Rooney wanted to leave because he was disappointed that such huge debts meant that United had not bought any top-class players to replace Cristiano Ronaldo whom they sold to Real Madrid, 18 months ago, for a record £80m.

"What most fans are wanting is some kind of explanation from Rooney," said the scarf-seller, "as to what has made him completely change his mind from saying he wanted to 'stay for life' to announcing 'I'm adamant I want to leave' over a period of weeks rather than months."

Theories abounded, about rows with the manager, chimerical injuries, demands from Rooney's wife, Coleen, after press reports that he had been using prostitutes again, and more. Many were held in the teeth of Sir Alex Ferguson's revelation that Rooney had announced he would not renew his contract as long ago as 14 August. But why let facts spoil a good theory.

There was fertile ground too for disagreement about whether Rooney has been off form. Or not trying. Or has had too much on his mind to concentrate on his game.

The big rumour was that Rooney wants to move down the Mancunian Way to Eastlands, the home of United's great rivals Manchester City. "I'd love him to come," said a gleeful City fan, Anthony Marshall, 48, who could offer no convincing explanation as to what he was doing outside the United ground, grinning broadly. "But they'd be silly to sell him to another Premiership club."

Dark clouds had moved over the stadium and the heavens opened as if in disapproval. "I don't think the truth has come out yet," said a United fan, Steve Wilson. "It's sad to see the impact that money and greed is having on the game."

The street traders put up giant umbrellas. "I've just ordered new supplies of the green-and-gold," said Mr Speed. "I think the protest movement will swell now, especially if Rooney makes it clear that he is leaving because of the club's lack of investment in new players. He doesn't have to say anything. All he has to do is pick a green-and-gold scarf from the pitch and put it round his neck like Beckham did."

Gloom was in the air. "We could get knocked out of the top four this season which would mean no Champions League football next year, which could be very costly, as it was for Liverpool," said the vendor. "We could be the next Liverpool."

The rain stopped as quickly as it started. Not one but two rainbows appeared in the sky. "I'll always back them, whatever," said a young United fan, Leonnie Turner, 17. Talk turned to whether United would buy Torres from Liverpool to replace Rooney.

The weather changes quickly in these parts.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before